Ex-Google engineers debut ‘Cuil’ way to search

Ex-Google engineers debut ‘Cuil’ way to search


By MICHAEL LIEDTKE, AP Business Writer
July 28, 2008

cuil-homepage.jpg
SAN FRANCISCO – Anna Patterson’s last Internet search engine was so impressive that industry leader Google Inc. bought the technology in 2004 to upgrade its own system. 

She believes her latest invention is even more valuable — only this time it’s not for sale.

Patterson instead intends to upstage Google, which she quit in 2006 to develop a more comprehensive and efficient way to scour the Internet.

The end result is Cuil , pronounced "cool." Backed by $33 million in
venture capital, the search engine plans to begin processing requests
for the first time Monday.

Cuil had kept a low profile while Patterson, her husband, Tom
Costello, and two other former Google engineers — Russell Power and
Louis Monier — searched for better ways to search.

Now, it’s boasting time.

For starters, Cuil’s search index spans 120 billion Web pages.

Patterson believes that’s at least three times the size of Google’s
index, although there is no way to know for certain. Google stopped
publicly quantifying its index’s breadth nearly three years ago when
the catalog spanned 8.2 billion Web pages.

Cuil won’t divulge the formula it has developed to cover a wider
swath of the Web with far fewer computers than Google. And Google isn’t
ceding the point: Spokeswoman Katie Watson said her company still
believes its index is the largest.

After getting inquiries about Cuil, Google asserted on its blog
Friday that it regularly scans through 1 trillion unique Web links. But
Google said it doesn’t index them all because they either point to
similar content or would diminish the quality of its search results in
some other way. The posting didn’t quantify the size of Google’s index.

A search index’s scope is important because information, pictures
and content can’t be found unless they’re stored in a database. But
Cuil believes it will outshine Google in several other ways, including
its method for identifying and displaying pertinent results.

Rather than trying to mimic Google’s method of ranking the quantity
and quality of links to Web sites, Patterson says Cuil’s technology
drills into the actual content of a page. And Cuil’s results will be
presented in a more magazine-like format instead of just a vertical
stack of Web links. Cuil’s results are displayed with more photos
spread horizontally across the page and include sidebars that can be
clicked on to learn more about topics related to the original search
request.

Finally, Cuil is hoping to attract traffic by promising not to
retain information about its users’ search histories or surfing
patterns — something that Google does, much to the consternation of
privacy watchdogs.

Cuil is just the latest in a long line of Google challengers.

The list includes swaggering startups like Teoma (whose technology became the backbone of Ask.com), Vivisimo, Snap, Mahalo and, most recently, Powerset, which was acquired by Microsoft Corp. this month.

Even after investing hundreds of millions of dollars on search, both Microsoft and Yahoo Inc. have been losing ground to Google. Through May, Google held a 62 percent share of the U.S. search market followed by Yahoo at 21 percent and Microsoft at 8.5 percent, according to comScore Inc.

Google has become so synonymous with Internet search that it may no
longer matter how good Cuil or any other challenger is, said Gartner Inc. analyst Allen Weiner.

"Search has become as much about branding as anything else," Weiner
said. "I doubt (Cuil) will be keeping anyone at Google awake at night."

Google welcomed Cuil to the fray with its usual mantra about
its rivals. "Having great competitors is a huge benefit to us and
everyone in the search space," Watson said. "It makes us all work
harder, and at the end of the day our users benefit from that."

But this will be the first time that Google has battled a
general-purpose search engine created by its own alumni. It probably
won’t be the last time, given that Google now has nearly 20,000
employees.

Patterson joined Google in 2004 after she built and sold
Recall, a search index that probed old Web sites for the Internet
Archive. She and Power worked on the same team at Google.

Although he also worked for Google for a short time, Monier is best known as the former chief technology officer of AltaVista, which was considered the best search engine before Google came along in 1998. Monier also helped build the search engine on eBay‘s online auction site.

The trio of former Googlers are teaming up with Patterson’s
husband, Costello, who built a once-promising search engine called Xift
in the late 1990s. He later joined IBM Corp., where he worked on an
"analytic engine" called WebFountain.

Costello’s Irish heritage inspired Cuil’s odd name. It was derived from a character named Finn McCuill in Celtic folklore.

Patterson enjoyed her time at Google, but became disenchanted
with the company’s approach to search. "Google has looked pretty much
the same for 10 years now," she said, "and I can guarantee it will look
the same a year from now."

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